That was canny, wasn’t it? A completely (well, nearly) dominant performance saw the Lads bring home three points from the Gas, and those three points saw us close the gap on Barnsley: with Portsmouth drawing for the fifth time in a row, who’s to say our season won’t get better?
Naturally enough, it was dark when we set off, ‘cos Bristol’s a canny way off, but after the darkness had made way for fog, the fog made way for sunshine, and by the time we’d negotiated the backstreets of Horfield, the sun was blazing down. As some folks were chasing eggs around Cardiff, there was nowhere suitable to take cocktails north of Bristol, thanks to excessive traffic, which is why we headed straight to the Memorial Ground. “You’re in the South Stand, young lady? There is a Portaloo, but I wouldn’t recommend it” ….at least they were honest. After being accosted by Radio Bristol, who asked what we thought of League One (great, we said, we win games) we headed to the Draper’s Arms, which might have looked shut but wasn’t, and proved a great place to warm up. Back in the day, a proper awayday involved a few beers and not getting battered by the home fans – now, it involves being offered generous measures of beer by an appreciative landlord, and sitting and cracking on with the home fans, most of whom seemed resigned to their fate. For the first time since Stockport County, back in the Quinn/Phillips days when a home fan had said “be gentle with us” to out Ian, the home side basically conceded before kick-off.
With our fans being split between the Standing Bit, (from where we’d seen Don Hutchinson score his first two SAFC goals in the League Cup on a wet night a lifetime ago) and the Tent End (which really was a tent), we had two sides of what looked like a cross between a rugby and a football ground. Which it was. We lined up:
O’Nien Flanagan Dunne James
McGeady Honeyman Watmore
That was sort of the formation, but as I’m ancient, anything other than 4 4 2, 4 3 3, or 4 2 4 baffles me. Anyhow, we kicked off to the right (which I think was north) and quickly imposed ourselves on the game, although it was the home side who started the faster but with little cutting edge. There was a little bit of defending to do, but nowt yer grandma couldn’t have dealt with, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, McGeady slung in a cross that was just beyond Grigg’s reach – and, after McLaughlin had done steady work to take a cross, McGeady repeated the trick but so did Grigg, being unable to get a touch on the cross. At least we got a corner, and up stepped Leadbitter as we reminded ourselves that these days they don’t hit the first defender. As usual, Grant got the ball into the box, but it was headed clear, and a couple of minutes later O’Nien was rightly booked for a fairly industrial/agricultural tackle on halfway. Enthusiasm is great Luke, but just gan canny, ‘cos that was only 25 minutes in and we need eleven players on the pitch for the full ninety.
Anyway, we won another corner on the right, and for once Grant took a short one, rolling it to McGeady, who slung in a cross that found Grigg at the back stick, and his touch gave football’s most enthusiastic player the chance to force it in. Gerrin Luke, Lad, and the mad celebrations were only slightly marred by an eejit thinking it was appropriate to hoy his drink over everybody – thankfully it was only water, but come on….
The home side’s response was to carry on doing what they’d been doing, which was hoying long balls at our central defence. Dunne and Flanagan were up to most of this, although sometimes we struggled to get the ball as far away from McLaughlin as we’d have liked. With Watmore doing his usual stuff, which ended on one occasion with a pretty hefty whack way over on the left, we always looked like having the pace to keep the Pirates on the back foot. Why are they called the Pirates? Because they Arrrrr.
Sorry, back to the action. Rovers did manage to create a couple of shooting opportunities, but both went way off target, which is why they’re near the bottom looking up and we’re near the top looking down. Big Jon, back to his usual confident self, took a cross, they won a corner which Watmore cleared, there were two added minutes, and then it was time to head to the portakabin for relief. More than happy with the way things had been going, and we were well worth the lead, even if we’d not managed to get out of third gear – probably because we hadn’t needed to.
No changes for the second half, and it was the home side who looked the more enthusiastic, if not effective, in the early exchanges. Dunne did what he does best – be the Big Lad and get his head to things, rather than fanny about with the ball at his feet. Once we’d let Rovers have their bit of fun, we attacked with a bit of purpose, and ten minutes in, won a free-kick in a nice position, twenty yards out and fairly central. It was always going to be McGeady or Leadbitter (remember those boomers a decade ago?), but Catts hitched his shorts even higher, pointed to Aiden, and our favourite Irish Scotsman curled an beautiful effort over the wall, leaving the keeper for dead as it flew into the net. What a cracker, and the bodies flew about the standing section as we celebrated the goal that had surely clinched the win.
This team we have now doesn’t know when to defend a lead, rather they do that by going for another. I suppose that attack is the best form of defence, and it’s a whole lot more entertaining than going a goal up and shutting up shop. Rovers tried, using the same methods as in the first half, but all McLaughlin had to do was to be his usual confident self and take the crosses that Dunne and Flanagan left for him. When our defence didn’t get their head there first, the effort sailed harmlessly over the top – which is why they’re near the bottom looking up and we’re near the top looking down.
On 65, Watmore sneaked off for a well-deserved rest, having run himself into the ground, albeit with little end product, and on came Lewis Morgan, who proceeded to dance around the opposing defence as little Scottish wingers are supposed to do. Rovers then had a little spell of possession, which we dealt with until Dunne got a bit excited and brought down their man on the edge of the box, earning a yellow. In an identical position to that from which McGeady had doubled our lead, Sercombe, who’d been by far the home side’s biggest hope, shot over the top - which is why they’re near the bottom looking up and we’re near the top looking down.
With fifteen minutes left, Wyke replaced Grigg, and how we wondered what would have happened if Ross hadn’t made that change. The big feller poked one wide at the front post as Rovers basically gave up the ghost, then put one over the top. Good job we were winning. Being in close proximity to the field, we could have a bit chat with the subs as they were warming up, and when Max Power had a word with the camera guy and nipped off to the Portaloo next to the South Stand (presumably the one the helpful steward had warned our female fan against using), his return was greeted with the inevitable chants of “he ++++ where he wants” , and exchanges of smiles with the visiting fan before replacing McGeady with six minutes left. Aiden was warmly applauded, and rightly so, but we should have scored another almost immediately after he left the field. Morgan galloped away down our right and squared it behind the remaining defenders, leaving a seemingly easy chance for Wyke, but somehow Charlie poked it wide of the far post – with Power screaming for it to be put back in his path. That was the third time Morgan had set up the big centre forward, and he should have scored, but when the ball went out of play in front of the Tent Stand soon after, one of our fans jumped onto the grass to kick it back – he swung his leg, missed the ball, and fell on his arse. I believe he’s called Dinky, and that was his moment in the sun.
Four added minutes were announced, Rovers shrugged their shoulders and endured them, we passed it about and enjoyed them, and the whistle went (a decent game from the ref barring one funny bounce ball) as we celebrated a win. To be honest, Rovers were no great shakes and didn’t force a proper save out of McLaughlin all afternoon, thanks to a combination of poor forward play by them and decent defending by us.
Man of the Match? Leadbitter’s corners were once again sublime, and he along with Catts, controlled the midfield from deep with a combination of patient passing and good challenges. However, for scoring THAT free-kick, and making it his eleventh goal of the season, it’s going to McGeady, who can run down the wing for me all afternoon…and keep pulling the strings.
Onwards and upwards